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ACL Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Sydney FC

UIsan Hyundai need only avoid defeat against Sydney FC tomorrow night to qualify for the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League for the second year running. The Horangi will want to bounce back quickly after losing at rivals Pohang last weekend, while the visitors will likely need a win to keep their continental campaign alive.Ulsan columnist Daniel Croydon previews this Group H match for us.

Last Time Out

Pohang Steelers 2-1 Ulsan Hyundai
Ulsan lost for just the second time this season when they gave away a one nil lead in the East Coast Derby last Saturday. In a highly entertaining, end-to-end encounter, both teams had opportunities before Ulsan midfielder Shin Jin-ho gave the visitors the lead on the half hour. Pohang replied a few minutes later when Lee Jin-hyun slotted home, before Steelers talisman Kim Seung-dae gave them the lead in the second half. The Horangi, who hit the woodwork twice and had a penalty denied late on despite the ref turning to VAR, fell to their first defeat on the road this season, leaving them in second place, a point behind Jeonbuk at the top of the K League 1 table.

Watch match highlights here

Previous Meetings

Ulsan traveled to Sydney for the opening match of Group H and left with a point in a scoreless draw, although they were somewhat fortunate to do so as the hosts were much the better side on the night.  Gale force winds blowing across the Jubilee Stadium didn't exactly create the conditions for a classic, but Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon must have been disappointed his side barely registered a shot on target until the last ten minutes of the game.

However, with Ulsan's excellent recent form at home to A-League teams, we can surely expect goals this time round. The Horangi put six past both Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory at Munsu Stadium in recent years, and overall are unbeaten in five against Australian opposition since Western Sydney Wanderers beat them 2-0 back in 2014.

Meanwhile, Sydney FC have fared a little better than their fellow countrymen when it comes to playing Korean teams. They beat Pohang Steelers home and away in the group stages back in 2016, then thrashed Suwon Bluewings 1-4 at the Big Bird last year.

Team News

It's a big week for Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon as his side will face K League leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors this weekend. However, the former Vissel Kobe and Seongnam striker is unlikely to rest anyone tomorrow night as he will want his team to qualify for the knockout stages with a game to spare.

Kim will be forced into a couple of changes though as pacy winger Kim Tae-hwan, who already has four assists this year, is suspended for this match, meaning Kim Bo-kyoung will most likely start out wide with Mix Diskerud moving up to the attacking midfield position. Central defender Dave Bulthuis is doubtful too, having not played since he limped off at Kawasaki Frontale in the last round. Kim Su-an, who scored that dramatic late winner against the J League Champions on Match Day 3, will deputise for the Dutchman again.

The Adversary


If Ulsan are facing a big week, then Sydney FC's next seven days must be gigantic. The Sky Blues have made the long trip to Ulsan knowing they must avoid defeat to keep their dream of qualifying for the group stages alive. Then, after the grueling 30 hour journey home, there is the small matter of an A-League Championship semi-final against long-time rivals Melbourne Victory. The fate of Sydney's season really does rest on these next two fixtures - and you get the feeling defeat tomorrow night may have a knock on effect at the weekend, meaning the pressure on Steve Corica's side to get the win at Munsu tomorrow is massive.

Sydney will have to do it without a couple of star players too. Right-back Rhyan Grant, who was impressive in the Asian Cup earlier this year, misses out through injury; as does veteran Alex Brosque and former Jeonbuk defender Alex Wilkinson. Marquee striker Siem de Jong was not on the plane to Korea either, as he is rested ahead of Sunday's semi, which means the team's top scorer Adam le Fondre will have to carry much of the goal threat alone.

Who To Watch

Ulsan forward Junior Negrao will be the dangerman once again, as he looks to add to the three ACL goals he already has to his name this season. The 32 year-old Brazilian, who has scored five in his last six Champions League matches, is certainly not afraid to shoot on sight and, as his goal against Kawasaki in the last round showed, has a couple of tricks up his sleeve to give himself half a yard in the box. Ulsan will look to make use of their width, and with players like the left back Lee Myung-jae and right winger Kim In-sung in the side, they can really punish the opposition on the break. If they can get quality balls in to Junior in the box, then Sydney could find themselves in trouble - fast.

Prediction

Ulsan may only need a point to qualify for the knockout stages, but they are bound to push for the win in an attempt to top the group and avoid a potential showdown with K League rivals Jeonbuk in the next round. The Horangi boast an excellent record at Munsu, especially against Australian opposition, but Sydney FC, with all their consistent domestic success, are used to getting results when it really matters. Ulsan must be careful not to take anything for granted in this game.

That being said, the Sky Blues are missing some key players as Steve Corica appears to be prioritising Sunday's showdown with Melbourne Victory. Ulsan have won five in a row at home in the Champions League, and I expect them to make that six tomorrow night.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 Sydney FC 

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